Kenya may sell out to big game hunters

Wildlife/ farmers get tough
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The Independent Online
THE big game hunter, a figure supposedly consigned to history by a government ban 18 years ago, could make a comeback in Kenya. An independent commission has recommended a resumption of hunting, as the country's wildlife increasingly competes with farmers for land.

While it is unlikely that the killing of endangered species such as rhino would be allowed, from next year lion, zebra, buffalo and antelope could be fair game if new legislation is passed.

Conservationists - dismissed as "bunny huggers" in some quarters in Kenya - will be outraged. Hoteliers and tour operators fear a return to hunting could damage the country's image abroad. Some 850,000 people, most of whom come for the game parks, travel to Kenya each year and account for a third of foreign exchange earnings.

The main proponents of the move to reintroduce selective hunting are landowners. They complain that wildlife on their properties brings no benefits, only costs in the form of attacks on domestic animals and damage to crops. An average of 42 people are killed by wild animals every year. Five years ago the government abolished compensation for damage to crops. The family of someone killed by an elephant or buffalo receives less than pounds 400.

A commission set up by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to examine competition for living space between animals and humans has recommended the sale of hunting licences, as happens in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. "We are going to look at this extremely seriously," said KWS chief David Western. One of the charges levelled at his predecessor, the conservationist turned opposition politician Richard Leakey, was that he favoured animals over humans.

His anti-poaching campaign was so successful Kenya's elephant population of 25,000 is growing by 1,000 a year. Elephants are losing their fear of humans, posing a threat to life and land. After years of having their needs sacrificed to the economic imperatives of thetourist industry, landowners and farmers are fighting back.